Thursday, October 27, 2011

BBQ Sauce [Zack]

My passion for cooking took flight once I started to make BBQ sauce.  It all began when I moved out of the dorms my junior year of college and moved into a house with 4 other guys.  Because we finally had our own place, we made the leap from an undersized George Foreman grill (which was poised by our dorm window so we didn't activate the smoke alarm) to a real grill - even though it was only $30.  All of the roommates loved being social and having friends over, so it was natural that we started to grill for our guests.  Quickly the parties evolved from simple BBQs to all-out Dance Dance Revolution contests and Karaoke Revolution competitions.  The evolution wasn't just in the entertainment.  I was in charge of the grill and decided that making my own BBQ sauce should become my new mission.  Somewhere between all of the beers and ribs, I found that I have a love for entertaining.

I’m romanticizing a bit I think.  I had no idea where to start – naturally I checked out the back of a bottle of BBQ sauce in the grocery store, but that didn’t get me too far.  I remembered my Mom had given me a copy of The Joy of Cooking (in desperate hopes that I would be able to adequately feed myself on my own).  I flipped open the page, grabbed the necessary ingredients, and gave it a shot.  Along the way, there was a lot of frustration:  burnt bacon, blaring fire alarms, too much vinegar, too sweet, not enough spice, etc.  After a few iterations and lots of splatters on the page, I felt comfortable enough to start deviating from the recipe and try make it my own. 

After graduating college, I got new roommates but the mission remained the same:  grilling for friends.  But this time it was on Wednesday nights.  Dubbed “Wacky Wine Wednesday”, we had each friend bring a bottle of wine and we would all hang out in the kitchen and cook together.  BBQ sauce was a frequent experiment, sometimes being so hot a friend would explain “my esophagus is burning!”.  I have also made it for my co-workers as a Christmas gift, bottled in Ball jars.  We even spent an afternoon trying to sell it to passing cars (Tony was the best sales rep). 

In retrospect, it was one of the best things to learn to start my cooking journey.  Making this sauce teaches you so many skills: render bacon fat, sweat onions, reduce a sauce, and balance flavors / ingredients.  This version is both and expansion and consolidation of my knowledge.  I have tried a huge number of variations of the recipe, but this one is one of my favorites.  A great BBQ sauce hits on each of the taste elements: sweet, spicy, sour/tangy, salty, and umami.  They even hit your tongue in a specific order:  sweet, tangy, salty, spicy, smoky finish.  You can add this to grilled or baked chicken, a nice rack of ribs, pulled pork, or even grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon.


Start your pot on medium-low heat and dice your onion, garlic and bacon.  Add 1 T of olive oil and 1 T of butter to the pot and let the oil get hot.  Then, add in your diced bacon and cook until the fat is rendered - about 5 minutes.  Add in your diced onion and sweat for 5 minutes.  

Stir in the diced garlic and chiles, and cook for an additional 2 minutes. 

Deglaze your pot by adding in the ¾ cup vinegar, worchestershire sauce, and your Dijon mustard.  Stir to combine and scrape up any flavor bits on the bottom of your pot.  

Add in your chili sauce and stir.  Put in your Cheyenne powder, onion powder, chili powder, and black pepper.

Let the sauce reduce to a nice thickness for about 20 minutes.  Adjust your salt (remember the bacon is salty, so do this last).  This is what it should look like when it has reduced:

It’s best to add the sauce during the last stage of cooking.  If you are grilling, cook the meat until it's about 5 minutes from being finished.  Add the sauce and caramelize it over the grill.  The same method applies to baking - run it under the broiler for the last 5 mins with the sauce.


3/4 cup vinegar
1 large white onion
3 strips smoky bacon diced
3 cloves garlic
2 heaping T of Dijon
2 T worchestershire
2 T Cheyenne powder
2 Birdseye chiles (optional!)
36 oz Heinz Chili Sauce
1 T onion powder
2 T chili powder
1 tsp black pepper

Creativity options:

Add peach, plum, or fig preserves (and leave out some of the ketchup)
Add curry powder
Replace 1/3 of the chili sauce ketchup with hoisin sauce for an asian flare.
Sriracha will enhance the spice level and give it a different finish
Liquid smoke may be considered cheating by some, but if you lack a grill or smoker, it can “recreate” a part that is lost.

Song – Al Green – Here I am

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Grilled Flank Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce (June)

It's still grilling weather in Florida so here’s another easy recipe that doesn’t require a lot of
time or ingredients. We split cooking duties on this one – I do the grilling while Tom makes the sauce.

1 ½ Lbs Flank Steak
1 Tbsp Salted Butter
1 Shallot, minced
8 oz. Crumbled Gorgonzola
1 Cup Heavy Cream
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Optional – Asparagus for side dish

Brush flank steak lightly with olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Grill “approximately”
4 to 6 minutes per side for medium-rare, (or longer depending on your preference),
turning once. (maybe twice for grill marks!) Let steak rest for 5-10 minutes before

While steak is resting, prepare the cream sauce.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about 1 minute. Add cream and simmer until reduced by half. Whisk in the gorgonzola until it
melts. Season with salt & pepper and keep warm.

Slice flank steak against the grain. VERY IMPORTANT!! I don’t know exactly why, but your meat will be so-so much more tender if you do this!! Top with gorgonzola sauce.

For grilled asparagus – coat asparagus with olive oil, sprinkle with sugar and grill until al dente.

*** If your asparagus is stringing and tough, you might not have cut off the pulpy part. Don’t just cut off the ends. Hold asparagus with both hands and allow to “snap” at it’s natural point. Some might be a little shorter but you eliminate those chewy, stringy pieces.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Autumn Salad with Spicy Pecans and Champagne Vinaigrette [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: simple
Time: 10 minutes to spice your nuts, 10 minutes to pull it together
Serves: 2

Two recipes are involved here: the vinaigrette and the spiced nuts. The vinaigrette will keep, so make a lot for those nights when you're lazy.

Warning...the nuts are so delicious you'll have to make a double batch. Most will be eliminated through unintentional snacking. Suddenly, nothing left for the salad.

Autumn Salad with Spicy Pecans and Champagne Vinaigrette

Mixed greens, bibb lettuce, or red leaf lettuce, enough for two salads
1 Granny Smith apple (Or other variety. Don't make a trip to the store just for G Smith! Use a pear. Pear would be awesome.)
1/4 red onion, sliced into slivers
1 handful dried cranberries (dried cherries work nicely too)
Stilton cheese (Trader Joe's has a marvelous mango ginger stilton. I know. There's no Trader Joe's near you. Go with a regular Stilton, or do gorgonzola. Blue cheese, even.)
Crisped prosciutto (brown prosciutto in pan over medium heat until crispy)

Champagne Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon dijon mustard, or more to taste
1/2 cup good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything except the olive oil. Add it slowly, whisking. Taste the dressing and adjust the seasonings. This makes way more than what you'll need for two salads. Refrigerate the rest for another day.

Spiced Pecans:
1 1/2 cups pecans (or walnuts)
Bake in a 375 F oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until nuts are toasted.

2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne (go big or go home!)
Mix these three ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
In small saucepan, melt butter. Add maple syrup and dark brown sugar. Stir. When nuts have finished toasting in the oven, add them into the saucepan. Stir. Then dump this over into the bowl of sugar, salt and cayenne. Stir well. Spread the spiced nuts on the cookie sheet and let cool. Refrigerate leftover nuts. Leftover what?

Suggested soundtrack:
Pancho Vladigerov's "Autumn Elegy"

Do The Chunky Sweet Potato! [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: soooo easy
Time: 2 minutes prep, 15 to bake
Serves: 2

It's as easy as peeling two sweet potatoes, cutting them into chunks and baking them in the oven with 4 secret ingredients that I know you have in the cupboard. And with chunks, you get a little break from the marshmallow-topped super-sweet sweet potato you'll be having at Aunt Cindy's for Thanksgiving. Maybe you can even convert her...

Do the Chunky Sweet Potato!

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes or chunks, about 3/4 inch size
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Maple syrup (I am loathe to admit I have used Aunt Jemima's pancake syrup in a pinch)
(This particular night I added a few sage leaves for the last five minutes of baking, but that's totally optional. But if you do use fresh sage, don't overcook it--then it has no flavor.)

Preheat oven to 425 F. Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil onto a cookie sheet, place the sweet potato chunks on the cookie sheet and stir to coat the chunks with a little oil. (If you've been overzealous with the pour, mop up a bit of it with a paper towel.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake on the top rack in the oven for about 12 minutes. Remove, add 2 tablespoons maple syrup (or more if you're a sweet freak), stir, and return to the oven, again top rack, for 3 to 5 minutes.

Suggested soundtrack: Ciara's "Gimmie Dat." Like the recipe, the song is fast-paced.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 20 minutes to measure out ingredients, 10 minutes to bake each batch
Serves: many

What is there to say about a well-made oatmeal chocolate chip cookie except that it's amazingly delicious as a wrap-up to a meal. Add a little fruit and it's even semi-healthy, right?

These cookies will be part of a picnic lunch I'm preparing for an autumn leaf excursion to the mountains of North Carolina. Since I'll be in SC visiting my mom, it's a perfect chance to get one with nature and enjoy the explosion of golds and reds.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 12 ounce bag chocolate chips (chunk variety is great)
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together.
Using a mixer, whip butter and sugar together, add eggs, vanilla.

Add dry ingredients, a little at a time.

By hand, stir in the oats and chocolate chips, and nuts if desired.

Place a heaping tablespoonful of batter onto greased cookie sheet, spacing about 3 inches apart so they won't stick together when baking, and press down with back of spoon to form 1/2 inch thick rounds.

Bake (one cookie sheet at a time) for 8 to 10 minutes total--6 minutes on middle rack, a couple minutes on top rack. If you're new to cookie baking, watch the first batch carefully to get your timing right. Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm up slightly, about 2 minutes. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

These cookies will keep in an airtight container for several days and they freeze well. But nothing's better than a cookie straight from the oven when the chocolate's still gooey and semi-molten. Oh man.

Suggested soundtrack: Marvin Gaye's "When A Man Loves A Woman," my preference over Percy Sledge

Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Oyster Mushrooms [Zack]

To honor Lauren’s birthday today, here is her favorite soup that I have made her (so far). The picture below is of a dinner that I made for her birthday 3 years ago in Manayunk. The star of the show was the Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Oyster Mushrooms, but other items included in the dinner were Tarragon Lamb Ribs Au Poivre, Toasted Pine Nut Couscous, and Ginger Snap Pumpkin Mousse Cups for dessert. This soup is very easy to make if you have chicken stock on hand. Just roast some pumpkin and onions, put them in a pot with chicken stock and a few spices, and add the roasted mushrooms before serving. The homemade stock is not essential, but will take the soup to the next level.

This recipe was deemed successful by Lauren for a few reasons:
  • It incorporated 2 of her favorite ingredients: pumpkin and oyster mushrooms 
  • The homemade chicken stock added great depth
  • Love was in the air
  • A little Crème Fraiche never hurt anyone


Set up your large pumpkin on the flat side, cut it in half with a big heavy knife (being VERY careful of your fingers) and scoop out the seeds. Cut off the rind of the pumpkin and cut it into 1 or 2 inch cubes. Cut a 2 medium onions in quarters and place them on your baking dish along with your pumpkins. In a separate baking dish, add your oyster mushrooms (because they release water and you don’t want to steam your pumpkin or onions).  Toss both trays of ingredients in a light coating of olive oil, lightly salt them, and place in a 400 F / 200 C oven for about 45 minutes. When the pumpkin and onions are caramelized, remove them from the oven.

Place the pumpkin and onions in a large stockpot along with your 3 cups of chicken stock. You can vary the amount of liquid added to adjust the thickness of the soup to your liking. Add in your 1 tsp nutmeg, and 1 T of cracked black pepper. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. If you have a stick blender, go to town. If not, let the soup cool first before blending because hot liquid can burst out of your blender, scalding your face and messing up your kitchen.

To serve, adjust the salt, place in a bowl, drop in a generous spoonful of crème fraiche, and top with the mushrooms.

Serves 4-6 for dinner, or about 12 as a side dish. Freezes great (without crème fraiche).
1 medium pumpkin diced into 1 inch cubes (about 3 cups)
2 medium onions, quartered
1 large bunch oyster mushrooms
3 cups chicken stock
1 tsp ground nutmeg
8 oz crème fraiche
Salt and pepper to taste

Creativity options:
Add in curry powder
Add in a strong blue cheese
Handfuls of cilantro or parsley

Song: Remy Shand - Rocksteady

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chicken Christina [Tom]

This is an easy, layered dish. A little over one hour from start to finish.

The dish is finished off in a saute pan on the range.
We grilled our chicken and eggplant to keep it as clean as possible. (Lower Fat) You can pan saute the eggplant and chicken if you wish.

What you will need:

1 - Small Eggplant
4 - Boneless Chicken Fillets. Chicken Thighs can be substituted. (sliced off the bone)
4 - Slices of Proscuitto Ham
4 - Slices of Muenster Cheese
1/2 - Stick of Butter
1 - Cup of White Wine
1/2 - Cup of Chicken Broth
1/8 - Teaspoon each - Salt and pepper
1/4 - Cup Vegetable Oil

Clean and prepare your grill.

Peel the skin from the eggplant. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/8" to 1/4" slices. Place on a dish and coat lightly with oil.

Salt and pepper the chicken fillets. Place on a medium flame and grill along with the eggplant slices. Cook each until tender. Do not overcook. These will be finished in a pan.

In a frying pan large enough for the 4 fillets, melt the butter at medium heat. Place the cooked chicken fillets in the pan, then start the layering process. Top the chicken with a slice of the cooked eggplant. Then pour the white wine in the pan. Let it bubble for one minute to let it burn off the alcohol. Next add the chicken broth. Keep layering adding a slice of proscuitto, then top it all off with a slice of muenster cheese.

Cover and cook on medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Plate and pour sauce over.

Roasted Veggie Gratin

This is great as a main course vegetarian dish or side dish. Easy to make - few ingredients - keeping it simple.

2 Tomatoes
2 Zucchini Squash
2 Yellow Squash
Eggplant (optional)
1 Large Red Onion
1/4 Cup EVOO
1 1/2 Cup Bread Crumbs
1/4 Cup Parmesan or Romano Cheese
1 tsp Dry Oregano
Salt & Pepper
2 Cloves Minced Garlic

Place sliced onion, whole zucchini and whole yellow squash on cookie sheet. Lightly coat with olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Mix bread crumbs, cheese, oregano, salt & pepper and garlic while veggies are baking.

Lightly oil the sides and bottom of a 9" x 9" baking dish. Let veggies cool enough to handle. Slice the tomatoes, zucchini and squash approximately 1/4" thick. Alternate the veggies standing them in the pan. Pour the oil evenly over the veggies. Sprinkle with bread crumb mixture.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until "crispened up".

Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving. Voila!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Greek Salad [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 5 minutes
Serves: 10 or more

I make a big bottle of this Greek stuff and keep it in the fridge for a switch-up from the other dressing I love ("That Famous Salad Dressing," posted earlier on this blog).

Greek salad typically involves chopped iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, pepperoncini, black olives, and feta of some sort (they even have Mediterranean crumbles now).

Greek Salad Dressing

1 cup red wine vinegar
1 to 1 1/4 cups olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Lots of dried oregano (to taste, I mean)
Pinch of sugar (optional)
Grated romano cheese (or parmesan if you don't have romano)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a mixing bowl, add the minced garlic to the vinegar. Stir in oregano. Slowly whisk in the olive oil.

Keep whisking and add the grated romano, some salt and pepper, sugar if you want, and taste it. Adjust your seasonings.

Suggested soundtrack: Neyo's "Give Me Everything Tonight"

Avgolemono Soup [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: very easy...this is the cheater's version. Apologies to Mike's dad

Time: 17 minutes

Serves: 4

Long day? Exhausted? Open a big can of chicken stock and get it on the stove. While it's coming to a boil, go change into your sweats.

Better already, right? Now dump the rice into the stock, and while it's cooking, prep the lemon and egg. Throw some salad into a bowl and make a big Greek salad--recipe for it is posted on the blog. Heat up some crusty bread if you have it, and dinner's ready, comfort food that's nourishing and a smooth ending to a rough day.

Although I never had Mike's dad's version, I'm sure it was wonderful with him coming from Cyprus, made the long way with a whole chicken and carrots, celery and onion flavoring the broth. Avgolemono is a staple on Greek menus, also served, minus the chicken stock and with a little cornstarch, as a sauce for fish.

Avgolemono Soup

1 large can chicken broth (49 1/2 ounces)
1 or 2 eggs
2 lemons
1 cup of white rice
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the chicken broth to a boil, add rice. Cook for approximately 17 minutes, or until rice is done. While that's cooking, beat the egg(s) in a small mixing bowl, add in the juice of 1 1/2 lemons (then you can add the rest after you taste the finished product if you want).

When rice is done, take a ladle of the hot soup and whisk into the egg mixture. Add a second ladle of soup, whisking constantly. Tempering the egg keeps it from scrambling once you add it over into the pot of soup. OK. Now add it in, stir.

Suggested soundtrack: Franz Schubert's "Four Impromptus, No. 3"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Saganaki [Mike]

I was on vacation on the Greek island of Mykonos with my two friends, Richie and Sam, the first time I saw it.

Waiters carrying flaming dishes.

As they placed the dishes on the table they would say, “Opa!” A big wedding party reception was being held at the restaurant, which had an incredible view overlooking the Mediterranean. I called the waiter over and asked him what the dish was. “Saganaki, a Greek cheese!” (Crashing noises.) We were distracted by people throwing plates into a fireplace. “What’s with that?” I asked the waiter.
He said it was a Greek wedding tradition. So of course we couldn’t break the tradition… we threw some plates too.

Saganaki flaming cheese:
One pound of Kefalotyri cheese
Couple of tablespoons of olive oil
2 ounces of brandy
½ cup of flour

Pre-heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
Place 1/2 inch sliced cheese under running tap water then dredge through flour.

Add olive oil to skillet, then the sliced cheese and sear on both sides.

Shut off stove and pour the brandy over the cheese.

Light with a match or lighter, as it flames yell “OPA!” Squeeze wedge of lemon on cheese and serve. (If you really want to be all Greek use Metaxas Brandy.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Last-Gasp-of-Summer Cocktail [Rhonda]

Summer's just a distant memory. And even though this cocktail brings lots of refreshing vibes with it, it can go year-round as a fun kick-off to an evening with friends (just lose the tropical summery napkin).

Grapefruit Splash:
Simply Red brand grapefruit juice, or freshly squeezed
Pineapple-flavored vodka
A splash of St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 lime
A slice of grapefruit and a slice of lime for garnish

Sugar the rim first: run the sliced lime around the edge of the glass, dip rim into saucer of sugar (I used white, pink and orange sugar for this photo).

Pour vodka into glass, add elderflower liqueur, squeeze the lime juice in, then add the grapefruit juice, stir, add ice cubes, place garnish on rim and serve.

Suggested soundtrack: Katy Perry's "California Gurls"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Homemade Sundried Tomatoes [Mike]

In South Salem, NY, we had gardens all over the place.

We had a formal garden, a cutting garden, raspberries, a pumpkin patch and a vegetable garden. We even had a perennial garden in the side yard next to the garage. Four-and-a-half acres that used to be a horse pasture, so the earth was super rich. You could throw a seed in the ground and have a tree in two weeks. (Just kidding)

One season our vegetable garden exploded. Plum tomatoes everywhere. We gave them to our neighbors, even brought some to church. They kept coming. That’s when we decided we should do a batch of sundried tomatoes. So we took the tomatoes and quartered them, and placed them on several cooking sheets. Instead of drying them in the sun, we set the oven at 200 F and waited 5-6 hours until they shriveled up. Next we put them in jars and poured olive oil into the jar. We also had fresh basil growing in the garden. We took a bunch of basil leaves and placed them in a jar and put them in the refrigerator.

We forgot them for several weeks. The oil congealed. One day I took a jar out of the refrigerator and let it get to room temperature. I took 2 slices of whole grain bread, put several of the dried tomatoes on the bread, then added several slices of Jarlsberg cheese. Took a bite… as our kids would have said, “Awesome!”

In recreating this experience, besides the original recipe I also decided to do some experimental ingredients. In one jar I added olives. In another, chunks of Parmesan cheese. Can’t wait to open them up in a couple of months.

Summer Salad with Figs and Ricotta [Zack]

If you don’t know what weather in Belgium is like, picture London or Seattle.  It has rained at least once a day for each of the 3 months of “summer”, was just warm enough to wear t-shirts, and cloudy even at night.  I’m guessing it rendered more than one weatherman useless (and jobless) because the weather really lacks variety.  I don’t mind the rain, but when the weather god(s?) decide to give us a nice day or two, I really appreciate the sunshine.  To take advantage, almost every Belgian goes on long walks, rides his bike everywhere, sits on terraces with a cold beer in hand, and enjoys the precious days while they last. 

Matt, you aren’t allowed to comment about your beautiful sunshine in Cali.

In celebration of the summer season coming to an end, I decided to make a fresh salad for lunch.  The combination of sweet and savory is one of my favorites, but the dish still ends up feeling light and relatively healthy.  Enjoy this one on a nice day with a cool glass of wine - hopefully on a porch swing.


This recipe has a few things to assemble and place in the oven at once.  It takes a bit of advance prep-work, but if you run short on time you can omit the bacon-wrapped goat cheese bites and the phyllo “croutons”.

I posted on the phyllo croutons earlier - they are really easy to make.  Caramelize your onions and apples for your croutons.  Put them into your defrosted phyllo cups and top with brie cheese.  Set aside – you’ll put these in the oven with the rest of the salad components.

Pre-heat your oven to 200 C / 400 F and start to prepare your bacon-wrapped goat cheese bites.  You can most likely find these pre-made in your grocery store.  If not, buy goat cheese with similar consistency of feta (so it doesn’t melt too easily) and cut into squares or circles.  Wrap with your favorite bacon.  Place these in a baking dish or sauce pan.  They will go in the oven at the same time as the figs (for ~15-20 mins) until the bacon browns nicely.

Stand the figs up on their flat bottoms.  Cut off the stemmy end of the fig.

Make a cut in the shape of an X ¾ of the way down the fig.

Gently pinch the base of the fig to open it up like a flower.

Lay them out on a tray with enough space between them so they open up and caramelize.  Drizzle olive oil on them and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Add a handful of pine nuts to one of your baking trays.  Now you are ready to place the phyllo croutons, figs, and bacon goat cheese in the oven at the same time.  Make sure that the pine nuts don't burn - they toast quickly!

Get a small sauce pot of balsamic vinegar slowly reducing on low heat while you prepare the rest of the salad. It should coat the back of a spoon when finished.

To prepare the ricotta filling, simply open your ricotta container and grind pepper in it to taste.

Now it’s time to make your dressing.  Dice some garlic and place it in a bowl.  Add the vinegar, mustard, and soy sauce and mix.  Whisk to combine the mustard.  Then add in the olive oil and mix until you get an emulsion. 

Everything in the oven should be finished around the same time - the figs should be nicely browned, the cheese melted on the croutons, and bacon nice and crispy on the goat cheese.

Take everything out of the oven and dress your salad.  Put the figs on your plate and put a dollop of ricotta in each of them.  Drizzle the balsamic over the top of them.  Add the croutons and bacon goat cheese bites and serve.

Makes ~4 medium-sized salads

firm goat cheese squares wrapped in bacon
toasted pine nuts
8 fresh figs
Dash of olive oil
½ cup ricotta
Cracked black pepper
Fresh salad greens (you can choose the variety – I like some rocket in there)

Reduced balsamic vinegar (optional)

Phyllo cup “croutons” (optional – this recipe will make more than you need)
24 phyllo cups
1 diced apple
1 diced onion, caramelized
brie cheese
sprig of thyme

Balsamic dressing (follow this recipe, but substitute the apple cider vinegar with balsamic vinegar)
½ c balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-2 cloves finely minced garlic
2-3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 ¼ c. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Jamiroquai – you give me something

Friday, October 14, 2011

Japanese Tofu Appetizer [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: extremely easy
Time: 5 minutes
Serves: 2

Otani, one of the first Japanese sushi restaurants in Columbus, run by a guy named Honda, is a '70s-looking space, multi-leveled with orange leather seats, dim recessed lighting and gray slate tiled floors, still host to karaoke contests on the weekends.

There's an appetizer not featured on their newer menus that they'll whip up, mainly because it's so simple. It's a clean, fresh (and actually, healthy) start to a Japanese meal.

Make sure you've shopped for bonito flake before you begin the recipe. Even though just a pinch or two is required, it's a critical ingredient to the flavor palette. Plus it's dried, so it keeps well. We have a great Japanese market on the west side of Columbus--I'll bet most Asian markets will carry this too. And make sure you've got a fresh knob of ginger--makes all the difference.

Japanese Tofu Appetizer

1 container tofu, medium firm
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped scallions
1 or 2 pinches dried shaved bonito flake
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

(One container of tofu will serve 3 or even 4 as an appetizer. Makes a nice light lunch as well.)

Cut tofu into large chunks and place in bowl. Sprinkle minced fresh ginger, chopped fresh scallions over top, then add a pinch or two of bonito flake. Pour soy sauce into bowl and serve.

Suggested soundtrack: Adele's "Someone Like You"

Technique: How to Dice an Onion Like a Chef [Zack]

This is the best way to dice an onion quickly and evenly.  As you are learning the technique, it may feel slower in the beginning, but once you practice a bit, you can knock out quite a few onions in the time it used to take to do one.  It also offers you more control: adjust the thickness of the dice by spacing out your cuts to your liking.

Slice the onion in half from head to root.  Take off the outer skin and lay the onion flat on your cutting board and slice off the tops off of the two halves.  You want to keep the root on and intact because it will keep the whole situation together.  

Make one or a few horizontal cuts through the onion (depending on how thick the onion is).  Stop before you reach the end of the root.

Next, hold the sides of the onion, and make vertical cuts through the onion.  Again, don’t cut into the root.

 If you have a paring knife, you can use it to make the horizontal and vertical cuts.  I’ve survived without one for 7 years, so I think you will be okay. 

Now, take your chefs knife and slice the onion across the first 2 cuts so you have a nice dice.  Slice all the way up until you hit the root.  If there are a few stubborn big pieces, you can rock the knife through a few times. 

Song:  The Roots - Break you off

Monday, October 10, 2011

Replicating my Mom - Chicken and Steak Marinades [Nick]

In many respects, it is easy for a young man to look up to his father. What kid wouldn't want to be a big, loud, brash, and overly abrasive New Yorker? (That question is rhetorical...don't actually answer that). I've always thought it was easy to see what traits and qualities I emulate in my father; a booming voice, an exuberant personality, and I love having everyone's attention.

My mother on the other hand is a different story. She's a fabulous-looking, hyper-intelligent, hell-of-a-cook kind of gal. Sorry Pops, but Mom's got you beat...
So naturally, emulating my mother tends to be a bit more difficult.
Do I look like her? I'd like to think so, but I suppose the quality of looks could be up for debate...
Do I cook like her? Fat chance...
What better way to try to be a little more like my mom than take her recipes (that have already been posted), and re-create them myself. With cooking, sometimes you get fabulous results, and sometimes you just get lucky. This circumstance was a little bit of both.
Growing up my mother would always take an incredible cut of london broil, marinade it for hours, then grill it to perfection. On this night, I attempted to re-create her marinade for my own steaks. Here is the London Broil recipe:
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup minced fresh ginger
¼ cup slivered lemon zest (peel lemon with veg peeler, then chop with knife)
8 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
4 teaspoons brown sugar

Combine marinade ingredients, pour over London Broil or any other delicious steak (can use zip lock baggy, turn several times in fridge before grilling). I marinaded for about 8 hours - making my meats extremely juicy and saturated with flavor.

But why stop with just steak? I decided to marinade some chicken breasts as well, this time with another one of my mother's recipes - what she calls her "shark marinade" (also already posted on our food website). Here is the Shark Marinade recipe:
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup orange juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon chopped dried parsley
Conduct the same process as before with the zip lock bag.

It's official, I can attest to both marinades. The soy and ginger combination complemented the juicy nature of the steak.
The chicken was a stark contrast to the steak, with a tanginess that gave each bite an extra kick.

So what lessons did I learn from my grilling escapade?
#1 If you have a grill, grilling season never ends. Unless you have some tinfoil and a campfire (shoutout to Pat Kaiser), there are not many better ways to cook meat.
#2 Marinading meat for 5+ hours will make your meat incredibly tender, juicy, and downright delicious.
#3 Always listen to your mother...